2018 was a painful and unpleasant affair, and I suspect soon we'll have blocked it entirely from our memories. You might say the same of 2017, but I argue this year had its own special and uniquely nauseating cocktail, equal parts catastrophe and nonsense. Last year we were angrier and sadder. This year we were exhausted, nasty, ironic... and on the flipside, equally desperate for a fix to melt our frozen hearts.
Maybe the best litmus test for how bad we felt in 2018, was how clearly desperate we were to feel better, and how tightly we clung to the culture that scratched that itch. Our cravings produced, or at least underwrote the success, of perhaps otherwise ill or at least less-well-fated celebrity comebacks; a deluge of sequels, remakes and reboots; a veritable romantic comedy renaissance; and few flavors of escapist nostalgia on-screen and on playlists. We were thirsty to feel good, or least okay this year. We wanted to be enchanted, and maybe a little sedated. And the entertainment industry, never one to pass up a check, delivered.
We forgot about all the satirical-looking headlines in our own newspapers, and instead read over Midge's shoulder in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's candy-colored 50's Manhattan. We escaped from weekly revelations about new men that have abused their power, and the uncomfortable celebrity pairings that made us feel like we were living in a glitching simulation, into the Hollywood fairytale of Ally and Jackson's doomed love. To ward off the chilling news of the Supreme Court appointment, our defeated organizing efforts, and the creative new ways our government keeps finding to punish immigrants and queer people, we snuggled into pleasantly multicultural, feminist and body positive happy endings of Netflix's Summer of Love.
Beyond just chasing the warm and fuzzies, we also went extra hard this year for culture we felt like we could fall uncomplicatedly in love with and champion without automatically stepping out into the warfare being waged in Twitter threads and think pieces — which often felt like a required Sparknotes annotation for going to see the latest critical darling or checking out a new album. I don't mean to heap praise on the apolitical, or knock these oftentimes crucial conversations — but let's be honest that they can be laborious and sometimes people just want to love something wholeheartedly. Turns out, it's super fun for everyone to like the same thing at the same time! The warm pleasure of consensus and participating in an all-Twitter fanclub when it's available has a powerful appeal when we agree on less than ever. Again, to be clear, I'm not suggesting that consensus is good or ideal, or any nonsense like mourning the Civility of Discourse (cough, NYT Opinion Section, cough). But it's a reality that we're often passionately and for good reason at each other's throats, and sometimes it feels good to all gather around the dinner table, and make memes out of A Star Is Born.
With the above in mind, we've compiled a collection of the top comfort culture moments which got us through 2018.
Just because the items on this list are the opposite of Sorry To Bother You doesn't mean I'm saying that they're more important. The opposite rather! I'm also not challenging this content's value, but simply suggesting that our particular cultural cravings in 2018 — as well as our relief and enthusiasm to share in a moment of collective ordainment — primed them for success. Except for Lizzo. That was all her. Read on.
10. "Paddington 2"
This stupidly adorable Wes Anderson-R-Us family franchise sequel starring a CGI bear living in London and Hugh Grant as a moustache-twirling villain became the best-ever reviewed film on Rotten Tomatoes in early 2018, where not a single person had a negative thing to say (a record held only by Toy Story 2, Man On Wire, Things To Come, and until recently, Lady Bird). Why were people so thirsty for Paddington? Maybe it's because when your reality crumbles a little more with each new epiphany about how the technocratic ruling class hates you, it feels GREAT to watch a teddy bear pad around London and right wrongdoing in a cozy, sweater-full world governed by humanity and moral logic? The Hollywood Reporter acknowledged as much: "Paddington 2 won't save the world, sadly, but its existence makes everything just that tiny bit better and more, well, bearable."
9. Amanda Bynes' Comeback
Not to flex on y'all with our editorial judgement, but the staunchly depressed public was primed to cheer for Amanda Bynes' feel-good return from the void this Fall when we debuted her PAPER cover story. A less comfort-culture thirsty and generally crueler Internet of yore might have mocked Bynes' struggles with drugs, anxiety and body image, but it turns out genuinely happy stories about resilience and personal growth break the internet in 2018. Which is... cool?
Related | Break the Internet: Amanda, Please
8. 'Caution' and the Concept of Mariah Carey Being Great in 2018
Mariah Carey put out a really great album called Caution this year, and that was a very nice and rewarding event of 2018! Bops aside, the very fact of Caution revived some kind of faith in the world, given that artists' 15th studio albums in the third decade of their careers are typically miserable, either a mediocre rip-off of their greatest hits or a desperate, flailing shot in the dark. So, it made us genuinely beam with pride and happiness to watch an absurdly talented diva icon and a woman over 40 win at pop, especially when Caution, in another dimension, might have been just another piece of evidence that nothing is good! Plus the swooning, old-school pop-R&B and an album that took advantage of a 5-octave range (sorry Clairo and Lil Yachty!) is itself, a nostalgic, escapist portal of an era long past.
Fans were so euphoric about Mariah Carey that they even executed one of 2018's weirdest stan moments. The Lambily spammed the Internet so thoroughly with the hashtag #JusticeForGlitter that the day before Caution dropped, the soundtrack of Carey's notoriously terrible musical rom-com Glitter (which had the misfortune of being released September 11, 2001) soared to Number 1 on iTunes. Why was this possible? Because when folks are jonesing for a happy ending this bad, they'll go out and make one.
Related | PAPER's Top 20 Albums of 2018
7. Ezra Koenig and Rashida Jones' Baby
Wow! Who knew! Wait, did we know about that? Oh yeah, we did know about that. Anyway, what nice folks! So talented and attractive! Bet the kid will be hot. Simply charmed! :)
To be clear, Lizzo isn't comfort food and she's nearly disqualified from this list because her music and public presence are a politically rich and complex phenomenon.
However, as someone who had to be personally convinced by Lizzo that she deserved happiness and and to pursue her dream of one day writing a dumb article like this (and whose annual Spotify Top Songs list included five of her songs), Lizzo deserves credit for doing way more than her fair share of comforting our weepy, existential asses in 2018. Her music is depression-curing ambrosia and her Instagram is the cheapest therapy on the market. Also, please find me one person with a negative thing to say about her? Wait no... please don't.
5. "Charmed," "The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina," and the '90s Witch/Girl Power Reboot Orgy
In the wonderful world of the '90s girl power witch sitcom, bad men get what's coming to them, when they're vanquished by the power of sisterhood and/or witchcraft, they stay put, and all romantic and world-ending conflicts wrap up by the end of the episode, or at very latest, the season! In the gloomy reality 2018, Brett Kavanaugh dodged the hex witches tried to cast on him, shitty men we thought were vanquished had no chill, and political conflicts didn't so much get resolved as outlived our attention spans.
So while our ironic-turned-sincere '90s obsession provided us with a bonanza of chokered, Clinton-thirsty gems this year from Mid90's to... most pop music, Charmed and The Chilling Adventures in particular, were gloriously cozy. Despite being set in the present day, and conspicuously trying to address contemporary politics (Sabrina's best friends are a Black pansexual warlock and a genderqueer mortal bullied for their sexuality; the first demon the all-WOC Charmed sisters slay in the reboot is a professor accused of sexual assault), they were more charming than chilling. Watching these reboots wasn't so much like time-travel, as it was like side-stepping into a parallel version of our own reality where, despite all the monsters, everything made sense and nothing hurt!
4. "The Marvelous Ms. Maisel"
Hollywood's prescription for our collective anxiety diagnosis this year was Midge Maisel's buoyant, oblivious optimism, snappy monologues and impeccable interior decorating. One 40-minute dose of that spunky white lady's pursuit of independence as she encountered few obstacles in a world absent poverty, racism or political strife, could put you down like horse tranquilizer after a long day of existing!
A breezy empowerment story of an indefatigable woman (when we were utterly fatigued) set in in a revisionist time-warp that had us begging to go back to the '50s (even though the '50s kind of sucked?), The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was a genius concoction of 2018 comfort culture. You know how Atlanta left you feeling weird sometimes and made you laugh, but like in an uncomfortable way? Yeah.
3. "To All the Boys I've Loved Before"
We guzzled rom coms like happy hour shots in 2018 from Crazy Rich Asians to Love, Simon to Set It Up to Sierra Burgess Is A Loser. You can knock the film industry for exploiting our misery, but you have to admit that 2018 has restored some dignity to the genre — which, as Vox suggests, has suffered greatly at the hands of YA novel adaptations, Katherine Heigel's bad calls, the fall of the mid-budget movie to luxury blockbusters, and both rising actresses' (Margot Robbie, Brie Larson) and former mainstays (Anne Hathaway, Rachel McAdams) apathy for the genre.
Netflix in particular, knew exactly what would lick our wounds, and nothing tamped down our existential angst better than To All The Boys I've Loved Before, which Variety reports currently ranks among the site's "most-viewed original films ever with strong repeat viewing."
The film was addictive, clever, and gloriously escapist. Just like Mrs. Maisel, To All The Boys throws us a representation bone to make us feel good about watching it, but Lara Jane Covey and Peter Kavinsky's fake-then-real romance unfolds in a tranquil, PG-13 multicultural suburban utopia (with suspiciously dead Asian moms) where the hot football stars are egoless good guys (sorry, Noah Centineo, not buying it!) and race is addressed about as thoroughly as it is in the Brandy Cinderella movie. Aka a world we're very happy to vacation in for an hour and half! We haven't been this desperate to believe in love since y2k (How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days (2003), 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)).
2. "A Star Is Born"
We really needed something to root for when A Star Is Born dropped in early October, just as it was rapidly becoming clear that, full year after the revelations of #MeToo and #TimesUp, a women's highly corroborated assault claim would fail keep (another) abuser off the Supreme Court.
We found our answer in Ally and Jackson Maine's intoxicating, star-crossed romance, which, although it ends tragically, reminded us how to feel! Yeah, it addresses addiction, the trope of the masculine martyr, the flaws of rockism etc, but you know that's not why we went to see it. We turned out to get absolutely tear-jerking, nose-running, end-of-movie-clapping hypnotized by the Hollywood-Broadway-Disney melodrama, pomp and circumstance, or as Huffington Post suggested, A Star Is Born's contribution to "Great American Mythmaking."
We delighted over the facts that Lady Gaga can act and Bradley Cooper can sing; the memes kept us warm on cold nights; and the movie gave us something that we could almost all agree was pure and good.
1. 'Sweetener' and Ariana Grande as a Concept
We followed Ariana Grande this year like she was the 2020 election, the Olympics and the Super Bowl all wrapped into one. We cheered for her when she dunked on the Internet and the music industry, we cried for her losses, we fretted for her well-being, we cancelled her haters, and obsessed over every post, ponytail, and personal and professional decision she made. It's almost like she was more fun to talk about than impending climate death.
On top of the endless distraction she provided us with, Ariana also created a near-perfect album that my colleague Claire Valentine describes as "an emotional rollercoaster dipped in sugar and served on a stick made of gumdrops," which made the most compelling argument I've ever heard for love as an act of resistance to when "liffeeeeee deeeeeeals us cards" — that you can read all about on our Top Albums of 2018 list.
With this, I crown Ariana Grande the 2018 Queen of Comfort Culture. She was our romantic comedy, our Hollywood fairytale, our nostalgic throwback, our Broadway play, our family movie, our triumphant celeb come-back, our inspirational Instagrammer, and our alchemist of the liquid joy of pop, all in one.
We're so fuckin' grateful. 2018 — thank u, next.
Honorable Mentions: The central park duck, Mamma Mia II, Cardi's SNL pregnancy reveal, Phil Elverum and Michelle Williams' secret wedding, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, Kacey Musgrave's Golden Hour, Diplo's Instagram, Dumplin', Honey and the concept of Robyn.
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.